The sibling relationship is often the longest, and certainly one of the most important, relationships a person will have in life.
So what can we do as parents to ensure that it will be a positive one? While the future is never 100% certain, there are some basic family principals you can put in place early to try to foster a strong sibling bond.
I recently attended an excellent talk on creating healthy sibling relationships from the beginning. There was a lot of information (the lecturer regularly teaches a 10-week course for parents on the subject). Here are five tips that I found to be especially helpful:
- Play as a Family: This strengthens the family unit and kids who are taught to value the family as a whole will also value their siblings more. Dedicated family playtime also models for siblings how to play fair, which will lead to a healthier relationship. Remember that your involvement in play will decrease as your kids get older (but regularly scheduled family time is always important!). The more work you put in early, the better they’ll play together when alone later on.
- Use Positive Parenting: We all know that continued negative parenting practices like yelling and over-punishing can be detrimental to a child’s well-being. But did you know it can also lead to older children imitating these behaviors and bullying younger siblings? Practicing positive parenting techniques fosters a healthy parent-child relationship as well as a respectful sibling relationship and high self-esteem (which reduces competition amongst siblings).
- Curb Tattling with “Small Problems” vs. “Big Problems”: Tattling is such a slippery-slope. It’s impossible for me to watch my kids all the time and I certainly want my 3 year old to let me know if the 1 year old is doing something dangerous. But older siblings can easily start to take on the role of second parent if tattling is encouraged. That’s why I love this concept of “small problems” vs. “big problems”. Basically, we tell our son that anything dangerous he sees our daughter doing is a big problem and he should tell us. Pretty much everything else is a small problem and it’s mommy and daddy’s job to worry about it. There’s some grey area of course (hitting or pushing comes to mind) but so far this is working wonders in our home.
- Reduce Rivalry by Reinforcing Healthy Behaviors: One of the most interesting things I learned was that children have an intense need to be an individual within the family unit. To them, standing out translates to being significant within the family. What’s really fascinating is that they will actually identify who they are in contrast to their siblings – even if that means they have to position themselves negatively. For example, a child will go as far as being “bad” because their sibling is “good”. To put a stop to this, be sure to identify positive attributes that are special to each of your children and reinforce them often.
- Reduce Rivalry by Promoting Internal Pride: Nothing fuels the fires of sibling rivalry more than vying for mom and dad’s praise. Teaching the kids to take internal pride in their accomplishments will cut down on their need for (and the competition for) your approval. Wondering how exactly to do this? The next time your kiddo accomplishes something, fight the urge to issue an instant, “Good Job!” and ask instead how the accomplishment made her feel.
What do you do in your home to promote positive sibling relationships? How big of a role do you think parents really play in all this? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments below.